Choosing an Internet service provider is something millions of individuals do every year, with pricing, speed and reliability major considerations. But what if there was an option to choose a broadband provider that not only offered decent service for a fair price, but also ran its very own pirate site for customers? Believe it or not, one actually exists.
U.S. Internet provider Cox Communications is scheduled to go to trial soon, defending itself against copyright infringement claims from two music companies. In a new motion Cox asks the court to prohibit the use of any material claiming that BitTorrent equals piracy. BitTorrent has plenty legitimate uses and equating it to infringement would mislead the jury during trial, the ISP argues.
One of today’s favored anti-piracy methods is to have Google de-index alleged pirate links from its search results. The theory is that if users don’t find content on search pages 1, 2 or 3, there’s more chance of them heading off to an official source.
The trouble is, Google’s indexes are massive and therefore return a lot of data. This results in copyright holders resorting to automated tools to identify infringing content en masse and while for some people these seem to work well (the UK’s BPI appears to have a very good record), others aren’t so good at it.
Errors get made and here at TF we like to keep an eye out for the real clangers – obviously it’s of particular interest when we become the targets. After being wrongfully accused by NBC Universal eight times in February, we had to wait until April for the world-famous Web Sheriff to ride into town.
In a DMCA notice sent on behalf of The Weinstein Company, Web Sheriff tackles dozens of domains for alleged offering the company’s content for download. However, for reasons best known to the gun-slinging Sheriff, he told Google that TF’s list of the most popular torrent sites of 2015 is infringing on his client’s copyrights.
We weren’t the only targets though. The Sheriff also tried to have three pages removed from business networking site Linkedin and one each from movie promo sites ComingSoon and Fandango (which are both legitimately advertising Weinstein movies).
However, the real genius came when the Sheriff tried to take down the Kickstarter page for Weinstein’s own movie, Keep On Keepin’ On. Fortunately, Google is on the ball and rejected every attempt.
Following a series of blocking orders issued by the High Court, UK Internet providers Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin, BT and EE are currently required to restrict access to many of the world’s largest torrent sites and streaming portals.
More than 100 websites have been blocked in recent years and today the court issued the first injunction against domains that offer no direct links, but only software.
The order, obtained today by Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association, targets five popular Popcorn Time forks: popcorntime.io, flixtor.me, popcorn-time.se, and isoplex.isohunt.to.
In his order Judge Birss notes that the Popcorm Time software has little to no legal use. Instead, he mentions that it’s mostly used to download and stream pirated movies and TV-shows.
“It is manifest that the Popcorn Time application is used in order to watch pirated content on the internet and indeed it is also manifest that that is its purpose. No-one really uses Popcorn Time in order to watch lawfully available content,” Judge Birss writes.
“The point of Popcorn Time is to infringe copyright. The Popcorn Time application has no legitimate purpose,” he adds.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or the so the saying goes. Nevertheless, every day millions of people use online services such as Google without paying a penny. It’s a situation the Internet generation has become very accustomed to.
For millions of BitTorrent users, things move to the next level. After using any of the thousands of available torrent sites for free, content such as music, movies, TV shows, software and games flood into homes around the world, without cash directly forming part of any transaction.
Of course, none of these mechanisms are truly free and for most public torrent sites it is advertising that provides the fuel to keep things running smoothly. While torrent site users don’t usually pay for access directly, by being a viewer of torrent site advertising and therefore a potential consumer, a convenient business arrangement allows ‘free’ access to ‘free’ content.
Unless you’re a user of the semi-private tracker Demonoid, that is.
In recent days Demonoid, once one of the most popular sites on the Internet, implemented new terms of access. If users don’t wish to contribute to revenue streams by viewing embedded advertising, they are now completely barred from the site.
In recent years blockades of “pirate” websites have spread across Europe and elsewhere. In the UK, for example, more than 100 websites are currently blocked by the major ISPs.
In recent weeks alone several new countries adopted similar measures, Australia, Spain and Portugal included.
Opponents of this censorship route often argue that the measures are ineffective, and that people simply move to other sites. However, in its latest Digital Music Report music industry group IFPI disagrees, pointing at research conducted in the UK.
“Website blocking has proved effective where applied,” IFPI writes, noting that the number of UK visits to “all BitTorrent” sites dropped from 20 million in April 2012 to 11 million two years later.
The key to an effective blocking strategy is to target not just one, but all leading pirate sites.
“While blocking an individual site does not have a significant impact on overall traffic to unlicensed services, once a number of leading sites are
blocked then there is a major impact,” IFPI argues.
For now, however, courts have shown to be among the biggest hurdles. It can sometimes take years before these cases reach a conclusion, and the same requests have to be made in all countries.
To streamline the process, copyright holders now want blocking injunctions to apply across borders, starting in the European Union.
“The recording industry continues to call for website blocking legislation where it does not already exist. In countries where there is already a legal basis for blocking, procedures can be slow and burdensome,” IFPI writes.
Last year we received a well documented report from the former operator of USAWarez.com and USATorrents.com, who accused prison staff of showing pirated films to inmates.
The pirate screenings allegedly took place in Lorain Correctional Institution in Ohio and soon after the news broke the case was referred to the Ohio inspector general.
The inspector general launched an investigation and a back-up of the entire file server was made to search for traces of pirated films. In a report released last week the inspector general concludes that no pirated files were present on the server, although there were some movie traces present.
“The one movie file previously identified was no longer present on the server back-up. However, the analysis identified an additional 23 forensic artifacts of movie files, portions of movie files, or movie trailers that once existed within two other LorCI employee user profiles,” the report reads.
“…it was not possible to determine what the original files within the user profiles were, based on the artifacts found. As such, this information is being referred back to ODRC for any administrative action deemed appropriate.”
The analysis further notes that there’s no evidence that the two correction officers who allegedly showed the pirated movies had unauthorized movie copies (digital or physical) in their possession at the time of the investigation. As a result, no further action will be taken by the inspector general.
In addition to the pirated movies claim, the Ohio inspector general investigated a separate case after a complaint suggested that dozens of staffers of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) shared pirated music files on a work server.
In this case, a technical analysis found that there were indeed hundreds of files made available through the local network. In total, the report names 16 employees who shared between 33 and 463 audio files.
The files in question were stored on the prison’s “JPay” system and were available to anyone with access to the network. According to the inspector general’s report, most staffers didn’t realize that they were breaking the law by doing so.
“The majority of the 16 employees interviewed believed the folder containing the JPay audio files was visible to everyone who had access to the system, and it was permissible to play the audio files it contained,” the report reads.
“Many did not feel this was or might be a violation of copyright laws and noted that had they been aware it was a violation, they would not have accessed the folder and played or copied the files.”
CO Jayme Weber acknowledged copying several audio files after he overheard others talking about a shared folder on the system, but didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong.
“. .. I mean if somebody would have told me it was an issue, I would have deleted all the music and I would have never went into the folder. I mean, I just thought by word of mouth, that it was okay to do,” he said.
The Office of the Ohio Inspector General took the matter very seriously and contacted Homeland Security’s ICE unit to ask if they would pursue the matter.
Since there was no indication that any of the employees shared the copyrighted files to make a profit, ICE decided to let it slide.
“After being briefed of the allegations, investigators were told by the ICE duty officer that based on the allegations, barring any significant changes or evidence of sale-for-profit of the copied audio files, ICE would not pursue charges through the United States Attorney’s Office,” the report reads.
In both cases, the inspector general decided not to take any further steps against the accused employees. Instead, the report ends with a set of recommendations for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t made in the future.
In recent years Coppersurfer.tk has quickly become one of the most used BitTorrent trackers.
Running on the beerware-licensed Opentracker software, the standalone tracker offers a non-commercial service which doesn’t host or link to torrent files themselves.
The free service coordinates the downloads of 10 million people at any given point in time, processing roughly billions of connections per month.
However, since last weekend Coppersurfer.tk has been offline. Responding to a complaint from Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN, hosting provider LeaseWeb suddenly pulled the plug.
According to a LeaseWeb rep “torrents are illegal” and the company had no other option than to shut down the tracker.
This came as quite a surprise to the operator, since his service doesn’t link to or host torrent files. In fact, Coppersurfer doesn’t know what titles are tracked or where all the corresponding torrents are stored.
Following intense pressure from the Australian government, ISPs were warned that they had to come up with a solution to online piracy or face a legislative response.
In collaboration with some rightsholders, last month a draft code was tabled by ISPs which centered on a three-strikes style system for dealing with peer-to-peer file-sharers using systems including BitTorrent.
In a response to the code just submitted by the Australasian Music Publishers Association (AMPAL) – which counts EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner/Chappell Music among its members – the companies accept that the proposals are moving in the right direction but suggest boosting them in a number of ways.
Firstly, in an attempt to plug the so-called ‘incorporation’ loophole, the publishers say that all Internet subscribers should be subjected to the graduated response scheme, not just residential customers. While that suggestion could cause all kinds of problems for businesses and providers of public wi-fi systems, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
AMPAL says it recognizes that the code requires rightsholders to do their own online monitoring of file-sharers. It’s a practice employed around the world in every jurisdiction where “strikes” systems are in place. However, the publishers would prefer it if the draft code was amped up to the next level.
“The Code does not place a general obligation on ISPs to monitor and detect online copyright infringement,” the publishers write. “AMPAL submits that ideally the Code should include such a duty using ISPs’ monitoring and filtering techniques.”
The publishers don’t elaborate on their demands but even in this form they are troubling to say the least.
While rightsholders currently monitor only file-sharers distributing content without permission, in theory and to meet AMPAL requirements ISPs may have to monitor the activity of all customers. Not only that, the ‘filtering’ aspect would mean that ISPs become much more than mere conduits of information, a real problem for those seeking to avoid being held liable for infringing activity.
But AMPAL’s plans for ISPs go further still. Not only should they be pro-active when it comes to monitoring and warning subscribers, ISPs should also use technology to actively block access to infringing content on other levels.
Early March, US-based company TCYK LLC began demanding cash from customers of the UK’s second largest ISP, Sky Broadband. In 2014 TCYK monitored BitTorrent swarms for individuals sharing their movies without permission and eventually forced Sky to hand over the alleged file-sharers’ personal details.
Virgin Media customers were targeted by an almost identical wave of letters shortly after, this time sent by well-known copyright troll outfit Mircom. Representing several overseas porn companies, Mircom also want cash to make supposed lawsuits go away.
This week the latter case provided a sinister twist. After TF revealed that Mircom was trying to hide its identity from its domain WHOIS, a reader reported the company to domain registry Nominet. Soon after Mircom.co.uk revealed its true operator to be GoldenEye International, another copyright troll outfit that had featured in previous UK cases. Emails currently being sent to letter recipients also confirm that GoldenEye are handling their claims.
The apparent murkiness of these cases only adds to the anxiety of letter recipients, but today they have some good news. Michael Coyle of Southampton-based Lawdit Solicitors informs TorrentFreak he will give his time for free to defend those accused.
Coyle is one of the most experienced UK-based solicitors in the file-sharing arena. Since 2008 he has spoken with or acted for more than 700 individuals who have received so-called Letters of Claim, including those involved in the infamous ACS:Law case that ended with solicitor Andrew Crossley being severely disciplined.
Coyle says he expected that affair to signal the end of ‘trolling’ in the UK but recent events have sadly proven him wrong.